Rookery (slum)

A "rookery" is a colloquial English term given in the 18th and 19th centuries to a city slum occupied by poor people and frequently also by criminals and prostitutes. Such areas were overcrowded, with low-quality housing and little or no sanitation. Poorly constructed dwellings, built with multiple storeys and often crammed into any area of open ground, created densely-populated areas of gloomy, narrow streets and alleyways.


The term rookery originated because of the perceived similarities between a city slum and the nesting habits of the rook, a bird in the crow family. Rooks nest in large, noisy colonies consisting of multiple nests, often untidily crammed into a close group of treetops called a rookery.

The word might also be linked to the slang expression to rook (meaning to cheat or steal), a verb well established in the 16th century and associated with the supposedly thieving nature of the rook bird. The term was first used in print by the poet George Galloway in 1792 to describe "a cluster of mean tenements densely populated by people of the lowest class".[1]

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